Question

My husband and I had a bad fight six weeks ago where I slapped him in his face and got aggressive with him, which is completely out of my character. I was so angry because afterwards, he wanted to run. He said he does not want me and doesn’t trust me to be around him. I have apologized and told him I’m disappointed in myself. At first, he just wanted me to leave him alone, then he stopped talking, and then it eventually turned into him wanting to be out of the home. Our children are confused (they weren’t home when it happened and don’t know the details). He agreed to four months of separation to see where this goes. I have no idea how to even do Christmas with the kids or what to expect. He has a passive attitude about it, like, “if it works, it works.” He basically told me I would need to respect his wishes if he doesn’t want to stay married. Please help.

Answer

This kind of crisis is usually the culmination of hundreds of broken interactions over years of struggle. You both snapped in your own unique ways, which is tragic for everyone involved. A separation isn’t the worst outcome in the aftermath of a situation like this. You both are taking a time out from a relationship that has progressed to this painful point.

It goes without saying that your children can’t be exposed to violence between their parents. In fact, you could go to jail if you do something like this again in the presence of your children. A marital separation can be a protective measure so your children never have to experience something like this between their parents.

I obviously don’t know anything of your marital history, so it’s difficult to know why your husband says he’s done with the marriage. If you want to stay married to him, then use this time to work closely with an individual therapist to better understand your own contributions to the marital struggles. You might see these same patterns in your other relationships, so it’s worth it to use this as an opportunity for self-reflection and personal accountability. If your husband is open to it, then marital counseling can also be a safe place for you both to work on the relationship while you’re separated.

Your husband may change his mind about staying married, but you have to be prepared to accept his decision. It’s not helpful to threaten or coerce him to stay in the marriage. Stay in your own personal accountability for your contribution to the marital struggles. Continue to be accountable for striking him and being aggressive, even if you felt provoked. You are in charge of your own reactions. If there are patterns in the marriage where he’s been verbally aggressive or physically hurtful to you, then use this separation as a chance to clarify boundaries around what you will and won’t allow in your future interactions.

I realize that the timing of this is difficult. Christmas is a time where we gather with our friends and families in a spirit of peace and unity. Ask him if he’s willing to come back together for a limited time during the holiday for the benefit of the children. If he needs space, then respect his wishes and move forward to celebrate Christmas with your children. It’s going to be difficult for all of you, but the more important need for your children is to have their parents repair their marriage.

Your husband feels uncertain about the marriage. If you feel certain about it, then look hard at your own contributions and make the needed repairs. If you’re uncertain about it as well, then this is an important opportunity for you to come together and have some structured conversations about your future. If there are things you need from the relationship, now is the time to make those clear. Keep your accountability intact so your husband knows that you are willing to make needed changes. If he’s willing to offer you the same conditions, then your conversations will be more honest and productive.

This slap doesn’t have to be the end of your marriage. It can be a signal that there are unresolved patterns that need serious attention. Use this space as an opportunity to examine all aspects of yourselves and your relationship.

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT